My research project – Egyptian perception of animal welfare

Some of you may know that I am carrying out my university research project here in Egypt. Through interviews I am researching the views and opinions on animal welfare of the Egyptian owners of working horses, donkeys and mules. I guess my question and aim of this study is to reconsider why should we, as westerners, come into developing countries and tell them their ways are wrong and try to make changes for them. Should we take a different approach? is there something we are missing out or forgetting? I strongly believe community engagement is a crucial part of charitable work, in all different walks of life, you need to talk to the people you want to help. There needs to be an understanding between the two different cultures.

I have now finally finished my interviews, after putting it off for such a long time and allowing myself to become nervous and worried about the whole thing, in the end I really enjoyed the experience and felt it was a shame when I had finished, I did not want it to stop.

Mina, a close friend of the manager, accompanied me to translate. We started at the ACE hospital with people who had brought their animals either for a shower or to see the vet. As soon as we started we soon began to encounter the problems everyone had warned me from.

A fantastic Irish vet Joe Collins was here helping at ACE last month, he advised I broke my questions up between asking what they thought was most appropriate and what the ACTUALLY provided for their animal. The aim was to let them forget what they had previously answered. Unfortunately this did not work, of course what they do is the most appropriate. Another problem I encountered was the presence of their friends standing over their shoulder influencing their answers, it was not possible to ask them to leave in many situations so we began asking them to sit inside the car with us.

Everyone we asked was perfectly happy to take part, I did get some interesting looks when walking around with a clip board. Some seemed rather nervous, others were asking what they would get in return for talking to me. I am unsure if any of them understood why I was asking these strange questions, but I would like to think they understand this is with the intention to improve their lives in the future and not just an investigation o their animals.

 

This was a fantastic way to see the way Egyptian culture works, we spoke to people from all walks of life with a variety of different jobs, they all shared one thing in common. Their dependency on a hard working animal, something that is almost impossible to relate to our lives in England.

My tutor had previously advised I interview only ten participants, because I am recording peoples opinions and not just numerical data it is very rich data and tells you a lot more information. I don’t always listen to people, so in total I have completed 20 interviews! I felt like I would not find much from such a small sample. I feel like I need to return for so many different reasons, one reason in the back of my mind is to carry out more research. Maybe I will change my mind when I start my complicated write up and get lost in the statistics…

 

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Pavo – A puppy pandemic!

Last Friday Wendy and I went for yet another fantastic ride in the desert on West bank. Just before we set off a boy I vaguely recognized came up to me on my horse Bhea and said “you work at the animal hospital, I saw you this morning can you please help us put a needle back in our dogs leg it really needs it medicine”

I only saw him briefly, everyone seems to remember my face here! We arrived back to the stables after sunset and the boy was waiting for us on a step. After putting the horses to bed, Mohamed took us to the boys home where his German mother lived, there were many people looking so concerned for their poorly pooch. This was a Parvovirus case and needed to be given fluids, however, the catheter which had been put in earlier that morning at the hospital had come out. Wendy was put on the spot, a lot of improvisation was required to fix a new catheter into the other leg. Luckily they had most of the required materials and Mohamed ran back to the stables to grab some vet wrap.

One thing that makes ACE quite unique here in Egypt is that they offer free treatments to large and small animals. The most common cases coming through the gates is canine Parvovirus. Parvo is highly contagious and is spread from dog to dog by direct or indirect contact with their feces. One complication with Parvo is that it can survive in the environment for months, including on objects such as bowls, clothes and floors. Over 90% of Parvo cases will die if left untreated, however, ACE does not let these cases go untreated and have a very high success rate when the owners do everything which is required and asked of them. The forlorn look on a Pavo puppies face just makes your heart melt, the only thing I can relate to this is how I felt for 10 days when I had swine flu!

We don’t tend to see many cases in the UK as we have vaccinated the majority of our dogs, ACE are trying to encourage people to vaccinate their puppies with the aim to bring the number of cases down. This will not happen over night, even if people do vaccinate their pets there are so many street dogs running freely.

This was a sad case where a boy brought the puppy because it was sick, when Dr David told him it needed to be brought in every day and cared for well otherwise it would die, the boy asked him to put it to sleep otherwise he would abandon it on the streets purely because he did not want to look after it. At least he was honest, I guess.

 

There is no treatment due to the fact that it is a virus, the only thing to be done is supportive care to the immune system. Intravenous fluids are important to re hydrate the body from the chronic vomiting and diarrhea, antibiotics and various other supportive therapies. The majority of dogs I see coming back every day for their treatments, always bounce back to life, it’s so wonderful to see such a poorly looking animal perk up to be bright and alert again!

 

A lucky scrape

This young stallion was brought in on the back of a truck one afternoon. Yet another road traffic accident, these are very common on the busy, hectic Egyptian roads where people refuse to use the pavements, animals roam freely and cars, motorbikes, carts and calleches are all weaving in and out of and rather frequently on top of each other. The horse (who Chelsea, a vet student on work placement here at the time decided to name Franky) and his owner were crashed into by an oncoming cart, the shafts went into his shoulder caused this wound. At a first glimpse it appeared to be quite superficial, however, looks can be deceiving.

The wound when Franky arrived

The wound when Franky arrived

After some investigation of the wound Dr David began to seem quite worried about this case, as it began to look quite severe. It was so deep it had reached the bone, and there was a rough edged feeling to the bone. As with every case Dr David says “we will try our best” it was then soon decided, with an audience of men around in the inpatient clinic, that they were going to have to get this horse down to the mattress and begin a major job of trying to stitch this up.

The depth of the wound, reaching the bone.

The depth of the wound, reaching the bone.

A job like this is never easy at ACE, they do not have a surgical table to lift the horse too. The first challenge is getting the animal anesthetized enough to be able to keep it to the ground, this is difficult and the drugs required are expensive, not to mention the ones which are not even available anywhere in Egypt. Secondly, this procedure took around four or five hours in total. This places a huge amount of stress on the horse’s body and also to the vets and assistants getting down to the level required. We were soon told by the audience of men that none of them were actually the owner, the owner was actually much worse off in hospital himself!

Once he was down, we clipped the area, cleaned with Iodine scrub and sterilized with alcohol. Dr Ashrath did a great job at suturing best possible, unfortunately due to the nature of the wound it was not quite possible to suture the skin all the way along, the joints are often complicated areas of the body.

Clipped and cleaned ready for stitching!

Clipped and cleaned ready for stitching!

At the end of this long day, nearly one hour after home time, we were all so relieved to stand Franky up, place a splint on his leg with supportive bandages and find a stable for his road to recovery. Unfortunately this was not a smooth road to recovery, we had to cross tie him in the stable as he began to bite at the stitches. Various nights he would untie himself and have a good go at them, during these stages the wound did not look great and the risk of bone infection was very high! The team persisted with flushing and cleaning the wound every day, keeping all fingers and toes crossed daily!

Four weeks later, and Franky is now waiting to go home! It has healed so well compared to what I had thought it could. He is now enjoying some rest and watching the mares come in and out every day, I try to give him some TLC but it is as and when he likes it. I don’t blame him I’m not always in the mood for cuddles from a strange English girl…

I must congratulate Dr Ashrath on this case, he was so tolerant and patient with his time on this emergency. Without the vets here, an emergency case like this would never survive! I am so honored to be welcomed by such an important team.

The owner is still in hospital recovering, maybe he should have come to ACE for treatments.  They did fix his horse already after all…

Euthenasia

Firstly, I would like to apologize one for my lack of posts…. And two, for all my posts so far been rather negative and upsetting, unfortunately the negative things in life are often what we as humans focus on and remember. However much I aspire to focus on the positive these are the memories which stay with me and tend to  feel they are important for me to express to the people who are reading my blog. Not everything is sad and upsetting here in Egypt, I will soon post some of the wonderful work, kind owners and successful cases.

 

So what do we mean by euthanasia? The term is derived from the Greek terms EU means good, and Thanatos which mean death. Therefore, we aim to induce a ‘good death’. In my personal opinion a ‘good death’ would be one which involved minimal pain and the shortest amount of time, relevant to the current situation.

Throughout my life in England I have known various horses which have been euthanized, this has always been either an injection into the vein or shot in the head by the local hunt. Unfortunately the drug required for the injection, Somulose, is not allowed to be transported and is not available to purchase in Egypt, I have heard rumors that someone previously tried to kill someone in government with the drug, so it was banned! It had also been decided that it was not practical, safe nor appropriate to have a gun present on-site. The team of vets came up with an alternative method, which is easily available and very cheap, a quick sedation followed by intravenous Magnesium Sulfate. A bag only costs 15 Egyptian pounds, which is around £1.30.

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Magnesium sulfate is a muscle relaxant, this works by first stopping the heart, which then stops pumping blood to the brain and starves it from oxygen. Dr David has often expressed the importance of a hyper saturated solution, the use of hot water and the solution must be freshly prepared in order to have a quick effect of the body. Every animal is sedated before we start the magnesium sulfate. If you follow these protocols I can tell you from hands on experience you are sure to have induced a ‘good death’.

In the past six weeks I have witnessed countless deaths, it is just a big part of life here compared to home. For example, today alone, we put down five donkeys, yesterday we had two horses and three donkeys, other days we have many kittens, puppies and sometimes even sheep. Most days there is a pile of bodies waiting to be taken and dumped in the desert. After six weeks I have finally got used to this sight, not because I now find it easy but because I have now learnt how to cope.

 

During my first few weeks when I found myself crying about a dancing stallion, who had traveled 10 hours from Cairo, arrived in the middle of the night, and was then unable to stand for over 24 hours, continuously in severe pain and suffering to an extent no living creature deserves. It took a long time to get permission from the owner to euthanize him, he did love his horse left so much food and was so very concerned. One could question is this the love of the animal itself or the love of the money the animal makes? The whole day I spent comforting him feeding and cuddling, he constantly lifted his head and looked me in the eye as if to say please help me. I really do think when animals are down and suffering like this they enjoy some company, they seem to relax when you sit down with them. After we had finally got permission and started with the magnesium sulfate, he proved to be a real fighter. He did not wish to leave us. Knowing this truly was for the best I began sobbing Dr Hanah said to me something along the lines of “Poppy you are still very emotional about this, please don’t think we are not feeling inside what you are showing, we have just learnt to hide our emotions, it will come to you soon how to do this”. At this point I was adamant I would always show my emotions and tears about these cases, but once again, I have been proven wrong, I can now hide the tears in public and save it for a day when I am feeling tired and run down in my room on my own!

There are always some complications when carrying out such work in a country with such different cultural traditions. One of these complications is that when it comes to recommend euthanasia, for many Egyptians this is against their beliefs. Some say this is a religious belief and the animals are in the hands of god, therefor they cannot decide to end its life. Others say they love their animals too much and can’t bring themselves to make such a decision. In some sad cases, the animals are brought to be put to sleep without any emotional considerations for the animal, they just want the money that ACE sometimes have to offer to convince people.

One case which I encountered was a carriage driver Mostapha who had a mare which dislocated her shoulder over one year ago, he waited for one year because the family believed she was pregnant. Mostapha and his brother were both very upset when they brought Rihanna to ACE. I carefully asked him a few questions which he was willing to answer, I am so glad I asked these as he soon changed my stereotypical opinion of him.

I first asked: “May I please ask you, without causing any offense as I would just like to try and understand your views, did you keep Rihanna alive because you love her or because of the suspected foal inside?”

He replied: “We love her, deciding to lose one life is something, but losing two lives at once is not something we have the power to decide. I have kept my word and not worked her, she has rested the whole year in the stable with plenty of food. if tourism and business could be better I would keep my Rihanna forever, but we cannot afford the food and must spend this on our new stallion to provide an income for the family. It is not just about money for us, but I still need to feed my family”.

I tried my best to be understanding and comforting, by offering her food in his company and reassuring him I would look after her and give her a comfortable last night with us. This touched me so much as he walked off and said I must leave I am too sad to see look at her any more, he was the first Egyptian man I had seen cry for his horse, this soon brought tears to my eyes. Although she had suffered for a long time, she was loved and cared for, and eventually the suffering has come to an end!

 

Here is a selection of pictures to show some of the many donkeys enjoying their last moments with us in the ACE paddocks. Kim’s only rules are that every animals must be eating fresh alfalfa and they must be removed from the paddocks so they are no in the company of other animals.  If they are suffering they are euthanized straight away, if they are not then particularly suffering  or in severe pain then they are given a day or two to relax and enjoy their last moments!

As I was finishing this post for publishing I popped down stairs to see if I could help with preparing the afternoon medications. This was too hopeful, there is never a quick pop down stairs, always something to grab my full attention. So a litter of puppies had been dumped outside the gates, they were adorable, very hungry and riddled in fleas. Dr David estimated them to be 20-22 days old they should be with mum still. The decision was  made to euthanize them, after many phone calls by all of the staff members to find a home which would be dedicated enough to raise them. Unfortunately because they are baladi dogs (local) it would be difficult to find a home willing to provide the required care, as there is no money involved. There are so many baladi dogs on the streets, many in terrible condition and pumping out puppies day in day out. We gave these sweet souls a meal of chicken which they thoroughly enjoyed, they then feel asleep piled together in the basket with puppy pop bellies.

This may seem upsetting but death does not upset me, it’s prolonged suffering that really hurts me. I believe death is one of the kindest parts of the journey of life, it is when resting begins. Life can be be so cruel and painful!

Baby donkey with a broken leg.

The other day I walked out of the treatment clinic, only to find the most adorable baby donkey wandering around the edges of the paddocks on its own. It was one of the cutest I have come across yet. As I approached, I realized this one was horrifically lame, completely non weight bearing on a hind limb. After a closer inspection, it did not take long at all to realize this leg was entirely broken, not just fractured, but snapped all the way through. It was hobbling up to every horse in sight, each time being aggressively sent away. This appeared to be a search for mum who I assume had been ripped away shortly before coming to the ACE animal hospital. I turned to Dr David and asked what the story was for this sweet creature. He explained that the owners brought this one in three weeks ago, they were strongly advised to put the suffering animal to sleep, but as in many other cases had refused, and taken the cute, yet broken ball of fluff home straight away.

Such a sweet face.

Such a sweet face.

I soon realized I remember this donkey from the out patient clinic a few weeks ago, the owners had called me over ‘doctor, doctor’, to try and ask me to look at and fix. At this point I was still trying to explain to people that I am not a doctor, which is a complete losing battle. Kim, the ACE co-founder has lived in Luxor now for 18 years. Everywhere she goes, she is ‘doctor, doctor’. It only took a quick look to realize this was certainly a broken limb, absolutely anyone would be able to see this. I wasted my breath, struggling to explain, with a dramatically frustrating language barrier, that it must be put to sleep. I was starred at, laughed at, and then watched the poor thing be carried out the gates.

Zakia the housekeeping lady had fallen for this donkey before my eyes had set on it. She had already rushed off to prepare a bottle of milk. Kim insists that all animals have a last meal to enjoy before we end their suffering, it is their last chance of enjoyment in life and is only fair. This was one of the first animals I assisted putting to sleep where I did not feel emotional, or should I say did not show my emotion. I feel emotional every time, but somehow you learn how to deal with these emotions, something I did not believe would happen to me when I started and the ACE vets told me I soon would. It’s an extremely confusing feeling at first when you feel so broken hearted inside, with so much sorrow and pain for the animal, but not a single a tear runs down your face. You just carry on the normal conversations with a smile upon your face. This time, without even thinking I picked the dead body up with four legs to then sling on top of the other dead bodies which had accumulated throughout the day, all ready and waiting to be driven by Ayman in the truck and dumped in the desert with all the burning rubbish. I have sometimes found myself thinking am I really cold hearted now? I think the honest answer to this is NO! Life is very different here in Luxor. Firstly, you become so desensitized to death, if I cried at all the deaths I would be extremely dehydrated now from the constant streaming of tears. Secondly, there is a different feeling when the animal is clearly suffering for so long, living with such severe pain at such a young age is a really tough start in life. It is then a much easier thing to accept knowing that death is a much kinder option.

Unfortunately fractures and breaks are rather common in the working animals of Egypt. Many are a result of road traffic accidents on the terrifyingly busy roads, which appear to have no rules or regulations whatsoever. Due to ignorance and lack of education, many Egyptians believe that a broken bone will fix itself. In theory I guess they are correct. Whether the animal will be happy, healthy and pain free is another question. It is such a shame it took the owners of this adorable baby donkey three whole weeks to make this tough decision, it is so sad that this little creature had experienced so much pain and suffering so unnecessarily. What a tough start in life. Thank god, whoever that may be, that ACE were here to end the pain and suffering.

Martha – My first donkey love with a broken heart.

Ten days ago, on the 15th February 2015 three female donkeys were brought in, they were all tied down in the back of a motorbike trailer, which is the common method of transportation here in Egypt. The man and his son shown in the pictures are donkey dealers, they frequently turn up with donkeys asking for them be put to sleep in exchange for money, claiming that they can no longer walk. During my first three weeks volunteering at Animal Care in Egypt (ACE) I have already seen him twice, with a truck load of donkeys both times. I’m sure he will be back soon.

The white donkey was clearly towards the end of her life, although she was bright, alert and responsive she did not stand up or move for the whole day she spent at ACE. There’s just something about the older, overworked animals, they look you back in the eye with such sorrow and hurt. That’s when I don’t even question euthanasia them!  She was extremely emaciated and had nutrient deficiencies, in fact, all three of the poor girls were. We offered her plenty of food for the rest of the day, then the suffering finally ended for her towards the end of what turned out to be a rather busy day. We decided to keep on trying for the other two donkeys and the vets agreed to eventually re home them when an opportunity for a good home arose.

Little white donkey enjoying her last meal of fresh Alfalfa.

Little white donkey enjoying her last meal of fresh Alfalfa.

After a few days I had spent some quality time with the younger donkey, I instantly bonded with her like I had not managed to with other donkeys. I just didn’t understand donkey behavior. It was clear she had experienced abuse at this young age, simply from the hematomas on her rump, which are commonly found in the working animals as a result of the barbaric Egyptian methods of whipping and beating to apparently encourage them walk and trot forwards. Despite the pain and ill treatment she had already witnessed, she was so trusting and responsive to the tender loving care I offered her, the other girl was terrified and I couldn’t get within a meter of her without a swing of the hind quarters and some hooves swiftly lifted up towards my face.

That week I spoke to my two best friends from back home in Somerset, Martha and Lisa. We are an inseparable threesome from school who are forever in contact, no matter what our individual situation. I told them about these donkeys and asked for some inspirational names, a few were thrown at me, but then it hit me… they were now called Martha and Lisa. They were excited for their own donkey updates. Lisa, the slightly older, more timid one was rehomed soon after, to an elderly man whose previous donkey desperately needed to be put to sleep. A common story of a long working career pulling heavy loads on carts. Of Lisa trotted, dragged out the doors to begin her tough working career. Martha had lost her close friend, she stood helplessly at the gate of her paddock. Each day she would receive a new friend or two to bond with but sadly, the majority of these were temporary before being ripped away to also be relieved to donkey heaven.

My personal goal was to train Martha to lead well, with the hope that this way her new found owner will not need to beat her into the willingness to work. I can only hope for these things. She had a nasty wound on her right hind limb which I clipped, cleaned and bandaged with Dr Ashraf. She was impeccably behaved, dramatically better than any of the other inpatients I had dealt with. The wound eventually began to produce granulation tissue. She was slightly lame on this, but after a poultice bandage, some sort of drug applied to break down the tissue build up, followed by some bees honey to aid healing, it was showing improvements. After a few days Dr Hannah alerted me to the fact she had ringworm all over her face and advised I did not cuddle her too much. It was a bit too late for such advice. Martha and I had shared many kisses and cuddles. She loved to muzzle and sniff my face, exchanging breaths and relaxing to a good scratch and massage, where I had been practicing some methods Charlotte, a previous volunteer had kindly taught me.

This morning I asked Dr Assma if I could treat Marthas ringworm and questioned her not being in isolation with the risk to the surrounding animals.

She replied with “Poppy I am more worried about Martha herself, I am sorry”.

“But surely this is a risk to the others, can I please treat her with the iodine and cream…” I replied.

She began to explain “Poppy I think there is not much hope for Martha, she has been laying down a lot and remember she was originally brought to be put to sleep, I think today we are going to say goodbye, please give her lots of love, but not too many cuddles or you really will end up with ringworm”.

I tried my hardest to stay strong here thinking I was cool with this decision and situation. I started following and carrying on with the vets and the morning duties, but I soon had to disappear. I swiftly grabbed some treats and spinach (because I ran out of carrots) from upstairs, I literally took a seat in the dust of the paddock and cuddled, cried, sobbed and had many one way conversations with Martha. I couldn’t help but think Martha had life left in her, but I knew this was not my decision. I would never doubt the decision of the vets here, they are fantastic and far more experienced in this field. My head then entered this battle of thoughts….

“I don’t want Martha to be put to sleep! This just is not fair, maybe I can convince Dr Assma to keep trying for her”

“Don’t be stupid Poppy IT IS the right thing to do, like Kim said, it will be so hard to find a home willing to care for such a young donkey who is unable to work yet”

“But she’s so cute and cuddly she deserves more of a chance in life, she is eating well and walking around with her wound improving”

“Why had we bothered to try with her and then give up on her?”

“OK, she’s trying to rub her face all over mine and it’s really cute, but I really don’t want ringworm, especially not on my face. I can’t stop crying and the stable boys are staring. I am simply pathetic!”

I cried… and I cried, and I cuddled… and I cried. This carried on until Chelsea came over when I broke down and let it all out. We took a few pictures of me with her then I realized I needed to get on with the day and wash everything thoroughly! This afternoon I took Angel for a walk along the canal with Chelsea and one of the stable boys, Nasa. When we got back Martha was gone. Usually with the many similar cases I have encountered I cannot help myself but to go over and look at the dead bodies, however, this time I couldn’t even walk past Martha.

I don’t mind too much If I flare up with ringworm, at least I will have shared something with my first true donkey love!

Freddie – A serious case of arthritis.

OK, so I have been trying to get my blog rolling the whole time I have been here, which has now been a grand total of three weeks. Getting started on the blogging has now become really tough, so much has happened, it’s taken hours of sorting through and organizing photos, then the need to decide on which stories to start with. Such a vast amount has already touched me in so many ways. Time has absolutely flown by, so much that last night I changed my flights to the 11th May, giving me an extra four weeks here.

Freddie was the first horse I dealt with. I instantly became attached to his sweet natured soul. He had a serious case of arthritis in both forelimbs, which I was told by the vets had been caused by an overload of work. As one of my first tasks, Dr David asked me to bring him out of his stable to cold hose his legs, he struggled with every step which seemed to cause him excruciating pain. This was heartbreaking for me to watch, especially when I was informed that he was no older than four, possibly even younger. When I first saw the size of his legs I assumed this must have been swelling, I soon discovered they were rock solid and this in fact was the formation of bone!

The vets had previously tried to advise his owner that he should be put to sleep, it was obvious that there was no potential for this young stallion. So you would have thought… Unfortunately, his owner refused and was soon going to collect him and return him to work. Every day he would be lying down in the stable, I would cuddle and sit with him in the shavings, every time he would not move a muscle but instead enjoy the company. When we decided to offer him turn out he would often be laid flat out in the paddock.

I asked Dr David, “Is Freddie OK? He has been down for hours without eating I am worried about him”.

Dr David just looked down to the ground and replied “He is just in pain Poppy, fed up of the continued pain every day”.

I then began to realize this was in fact the behavior shown by many of the animals who were here as inpatients.

Eventually the day arrived when his owner returned to collect Freddie, I managed to capture a last couple of pictures while I frantically checked all my pockets for carrots.

Freddie loved carrots. Many of the animals will not accept food from your hand as they have not been hand fed treats in the past. At first he didn’t understand, but after a few night trips down in the dark for ‘carrot duties’ with Charlotte and Abbie, he understood what a cuddle, scratch and carrot really was about. I spoke to the owner to find out what work he carried out, he said that he was a dancing horse. I will never understand how his owner believes this skinny and extremely lame horse will ever be able to dance? I shall also never get my head around how such a severe case of arthritis has appeared on a youngster from dancing. Stood next to the truck, with tears continuously rolling down my face as he looked at me in the eye, munching on his last carrot and receiving what could possibly be his last bout of kindness, all I could say was “good luck in life Freddie”. I then turned to his owner and said “Please be kind to him, he loves carrots”.

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The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. – Mohandas K. Gandhi

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